A Leicester car park and the future of science

iStock_000016692030XSmallSo the skeleton under the tarmac of a social services car park in the middle of Leicester turned out to be King Richard after all.

And as the international media flooded into the city to hear the news, it was a good day for everyone associated with the city.

With a variety of scientific and historical evidence, it was proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the bones belonged to the last English king to be killed on the field of battle, at nearby Bosworth over 500 years ago.

And it was strangely fitting to learn that virtually the final piece in the jigsaw should have been a comparison of DNA from the skeleton with that of one Michael Ibsen, Richard’s 17th generation nephew.

DNA and Leicester go together.   DNA “fingerprinting” was discovered by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester in the 1980s, and was first used to aid a criminal investigation, also in Leicestershire, in 1986.

Having originally trained and worked, more years ago than I care to mention, as a medical scientist in the National Health Service, I’ve always had a fascination with science, and DNA has been one of most enthralling stories over the last thirty years.

But for every well publicised scientific breakthrough, there are many that attract less public interest, yet may ultimately be just as important, and funding for scientific research is coming under huge pressure as governments cut budgets.

So it was good to be able to welcome the €2 billion in European funds announced last week which will go to research projects investigating the “miracle material” graphene and the human brain.

This unprecedented funding, under the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies programme, is designed to give Europe an edge in key areas of research.

But while funding is crucial for scientific development, it’s also vital that we have effective European legislation which will actually encourage scientific research, for the economic benefit of all of us.

The Clinical Trials Regulation, where I’m rapporteur, is a case in point.  If we get it right, we will enable companies, universities and researchers to undertake more trials.  More trials means more jobs, more prosperity, and more life-saving treatments.

And it means more fascinating discoveries . . .  like finding a king in car park!

 

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